Executive Commitee Meeting 3 March 2017

 

Society of District Council Treasurers


At the CIPFA Offices, 77 Mansell Street, London

In Attendance: Norma Atlay (President), Angela George (Secretary), Bob Palmer, William Jacobs, Nick Eveleigh, Alan Peach, Peter Stuart, Jo Wagstaffe.
Also in attendance: Bevis Ingram (LGA), Aileen Murphie and David Aldous (NAO), Guy Clifton (Grant Thornton), Lisa Quinn and Hayley Sullivan (Capita), Sally Marshall (DCEN), Chris Ellis (Zurich).

1. Apologies:
Apologies were received from – Rob Bridge, Jill Penn, Shirlene Adams, Jason Vaughan, Frank Wilson, Simone Hines, Kevin Jaquest, Sal Khan, Chris Brewer, Steve Richardson.
Also: Jon Hayes (PSAA), Cliff Dalton (CIPFA).

Goodbyes: Resignations from the Executive have been received from Rob Bridge who has been promoted to Chief Executive at Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council and Helen Seechurn who has taken voluntary redundancy from Burnley Borough Council. The Executive extended their thanks to Rob and Helen for their individual contributions to the SDCT and wished them the very best for the future.

2. Minutes of Previous Meeting and matters arising
The draft minutes of the previous meeting of 2nd December 2016 were agreed with some minor amendments and will be published on the website.
Actions have either been completed or picked up elsewhere on the agenda.

Issues arising from the Annual General Meeting 6th January 2017:
- The Subscription proposals for 2017 were approved.
Action – Frank Wilson
- An honorary Past Presidents badge was awarded to Sandra Cowley.
- Communications with the wider District membership. This will be discussed further in Part B.

3. Government Finance Settlement 2017

There were no further specific issues arising following consideration of this issue as one of the agenda items at the AGM on 6th January.

The Executive discussed the letter that had been received from DCLG on 21st February regarding Planning Application fees: The Governments offer. The letter was unclear in several respects and after a number of queries the following questions had been put to them by the SDCT Executive alongside the DCLG answer:

Q - The nationally set planning fees will increase by 20% from July 2017, which councils can apply but only if they commit to invest the additional fee income in their planning department (and who let DCLG know)
A - Yes, this is correct, but please note that increased fees cannot be charged until the Statutory Instrument detailing the fees, and Local Authorities who have agreed to the higher fees, is made in July.

Q - There will be a consultation on an additional 20% increase for those authorities who are delivering the homes their communities need (consultation to outline what the proposed determining criteria for that will be)
A - Yes, this is correct.

Q - The 20% increase can be used to offset current deficits in councils’ planning functions
A - The 20% increase must be used within the planning function. As you are aware there is not a correlation between the fee charged and the funding an authority puts into the planning service. Therefore it is ministers’ ambition that the 20% will be additional to the spend that was planned for 2017/18 and so while we cannot prescribe it, I think there will be disappointment if the authority reduces the current funding levels.
Q - There is also use of the terms “spend on planning functions” and reference to “expenditure on development management” – are these the same things?
A - We have had a number of queries in this area. Ministers are keen to secure is an overall improvement in the planning service, and a part of this is an Authority’s performance in relation to its Development Management service. However we recognise that the spend to secure improved delivery may include some spend from different functions, e.g. specialist staff or costs to develop the local plan. How this is recorded within individual authorities clearly varies. On this basis, we’re happy to accept expenditure figures which include those costs which feed through to ensuring the efficiency of services paid for by planning application fees.
Q - Is there an expectation that councils should maintain any existing subsidy from taxpayers into planning departments?
A - Please see the response above regarding the ambition ministers have for how these fees will be used.
Q - Finally, is this a precursor to introducing competition in processing of planning applications and being used as a way of gathering information?
A - No



4. Business Rate Retention

NB: All papers from the various working groups have previously been circulated to SDCT members and all papers are available on the LGA website (www.local.gov.uk/business-rates ; e- mail: businessrates@local.gov.uk)

4.1 Steering Group and Business Rates Pilots (Norma Atlay lead)
Norma updated the Executive from the recent Steering Group meeting. There is an ‘open invitation’ to be part of the Business Rates Pilot scheme from the DCLG. There was little new substantive information/ decisions, and no timetable of future meetings or timescale.
4.2 Systems Design (Alan Peach lead) – nothing to report.
4.3 Needs and Redistribution (Nick Eveleigh lead) –
Slides had been circulated on the work carried out to date by ALATS on the Needs Based Review. LG Futures have been engaged to do a piece of work to exemplify the options and the SDCT have agreed to contribute to the cost of this work.
4.4 New Service Responsibilities (Steve Richardson lead)
In Steve’s absence, Bevis Ingram (LGA) updated the Executive. There was little available in the way of further ideas although the idea of Attendance Allowance being transferred appears to be no longer on the table.
4.5 Accounting and Accountability (Simone Hines lead) – nothing to report.

In conclusion, there is nothing substantive to report at this stage. As previously stated, all papers from the working groups are on the LGA website.

Bob queried the recent Consultation document - 100% Business Rates Retention: Further consultation on the design of the reformed system. Responses are required by 3rd May. Bevis reported that the LGA would be preparing a response and would share that with Alan Peach as soon as possible.

Action – Alan Peach to prepare the SDCT response

5. Audit Update
A Paper from Bob Palmer was considered (attached) with additional issues as follows:

5.1 National Audit Office
Aileen Murphie gave an update on some of the key NAO studies:
- The value for money study on the government’s plans to design and put in place 100% Business Rate Retention is nearing completion.
- Devolution / LG Reorganisation
- LA Capital Financing / Commercialisation of Sector
Aileen also reported that the NAO would be reporting to the PAC on Housing Issues, including the gap in supply and lack of building by the public sector.
There was some concern raised that the DWP were not adequately addressing the SFIS issue. Any concerns should be fed back to Bob and he would raise it at the NAO Reference Panel next week.
5.2 PSAA Ltd
It was reported that only a handful of authorities had not signed up to the PSAA.
There is however a growing concern as to whether anyone will want to bid for the HB Certification work and whether DWP will cover the likely increased cost as we lose the link with the PSAA appointment. Jon Hayes (PSAA) has previously indicated that PSAA is not able to run a similar appointments process for the HB audits and there is a query as to whether there is anything the LGA might do at a national level. The amount the firms currently earn for this work is relatively small and they need to have specialist resources employed to understand the system so there is a risk that a number of them may pull out of this part of the market if they are given a choice. This will leave authorities in a difficult position. Jill reported that on a recent conference call with the DWP they said they had met with the accountancy firms who gave positive noises about doing the work. When challenged what would happen if they didn’t, they felt that ‘there would not be any who would not take up the opportunity’.

Action – Bob Palmer to continue to update on audit issues. Further discussions to be held regarding the HB Subsidy Audit.

6. Advisor Reports

6.1 Universal Credit (Simone Hines) - paper attached and key issues discussed.

6.2 CLIP – F Group – paper attached from Julie Bissell (Broadland) and key issues discussed.

7. Reports from External Bodies / Sponsors:

7.1 LGA
Bevis updated on some of the issues currently being dealt with by the LGA not previously covered on the agenda including:
• The Budget announcement was due next week and he outlined some of the potential issues.
• Business Rates – joint events are still being run with the DCLG and places are available.
• Municipal Bond Authority – it was still anticipated that the first bond would be issued shortly. The reason for the delay is not clear.
• Flooding and cost of drainage consents – this is being looked at by the LGA.
• Prudential Code review

7.2 DCEN
Sally Marshall updated the Executive on current issues particularly on the issues surrounding Business Rates and the Housing White paper. Sally requested that the SDCT and DCN work together on pulling together case study examples of Housing issues.

Action – Executive to feed back any Housing examples to Sally.


7.3 Capita
Lisa Quinn gave an update on the review of the Prudential and Treasury Codes. The deadline for responses is 21st April which is very tight given the issues to be considered. The Capita responses would be shared.

Hayley Sullivan gave a presentation (circulated) on Capita Housing initiatives. The presentation addresses the services and schemes that are available to local authorities including:
• A range of housing and commercial activity options – including due diligence reviews and extended due diligence project managed exercises (bringing together a range of partners including property consultants, financial overview, legal and taxation specialists) to support local authorities in the decision making and implementation process
• A shared ownership scheme – Local Authority Partnership Purchase Scheme (LAPP) to enable local authorities to provide access to housing on a shared ownership basis
• A custom and self build scheme – Custom and Self Build (CSB) to support local authorities in meeting the duties as defined under the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act

Action – anyone interested in pursuing any of these schemes should contact Hayley directly

7.4 Zurich
Chris Ellis, Deputy Regional Manager at Zurich attended the meeting and gave an update on a few current topics that were of interest, including:
- Increasing fragmentation in LA working (e.g. Housing and Property)
- Transformation / New ways of working
- Health and Safety – home working / lone working / mental health issues
Chris stresses that early engagement with insurers on these issues was vital and not to leave this until the end of a process.

He also highlighted the change in the actuarial discount rate attached to insurance pay-outs re. injury / death which had been announced this week. This could raise insurance premiums dramatically and thus add to spending pressures. Bevis considered that this could be treated as a new burden and they would work with the Treasurer Societies and CIPFA to gather evidence.

7.5 Grant Thornton
Guy Clifton gave a brief update on the following studies:
- Vibrant Economy Index
- Leadership and Culture
- Income and Charging
- Social Enterprise
- Brexit

8 CIPFA Conference – Agenda

A number of potential subjects were considered and this will be firmed up at the next Executive meeting.

9 Any Other Business:

Commercialisation and CFO’s – CIPFA are seeking to support a development programme in support of CFOs. The programme would aim to ensure all CFO’s felt they had the right skill, knowledge and behaviours to contribute fully to the commercial agenda within their Councils. There has been recent PAC interest in this area and the SDCT AGM in January covered the topic. CIPFAs view is that the commercial agenda in all its guises must be pursued as a crucial contribution to financial balance. However the more commercial the approach the more " savvy' the due diligence required.
Peter, Sal and Jason would dial in to the CIPFA meeting next week and report back to the next Executive meeting
Action – Jason Vaughan, Peter Stuart and Sal Khan to report back.

10 Date of Next Meeting – 21st April 2017 – Venue TBC


11 Part B – Private Executive Business:

11.1 Resignation and replacement of vice president
Following Rob’s promotion and departure from the SDCT, Jill has agreed to step up to Vice President. The position of second vice president is therefore vacant and an election will be held to fill the position.

Action – Angela to progress the election

11.2 Advisor areas update and new members
A targeted approach to recruiting new members would be taken looking at the areas in the Country currently under-represented.

Action – Angela to progress

11.3 Communications with Members
There had been some discussion at the AGM about improving communications with general Members. Mailchimp is still under consideration as a new method of communication. A further suggestion was to have more ‘full’ meetings for all of the members in different locations in the Country.

Action – Angela to progress